The dangers extreme cold poses to humans are well known – hypothermia, frostbite, dry skin, breathing problems, increased risk of heart attack, and more. But do you know that extreme cold can be just as dangerous to pets? Fortunately, there are easy steps you can take to keep your pets safe and comfortable no matter how low the temperature drops.
How Extreme Cold Can Hurt Pets
Many pets are naturally equipped to tolerate cold, with dense fur, insulated foot pads, and layers of fat under their skin, plus the ability to shiver to raise their body temperature and controlling their breathing to minimize heat loss. Extreme cold or extended periods of low temperatures, however, are still dangerous, and pets are susceptible to frostbite, especially on their ears, tail, and paws. Cold temperatures can exacerbate arthritis in older pets, and young animals, elderly animals, and pets with short fur or no fur are especially vulnerable to cold. Different types of animals have different resistance to low temperatures and different tolerances, but caring for your pet during cold weather can be easy.
Caring for Your Pet During Extreme Cold
There are many different steps you can take to help your pet stay warm even on the coldest days. While not every technique will be appropriate for every pet, using several options can keep your pet safe and comfortable.
- Watch the Weather – Be aware of the forecast low temperatures so you can prepare your pet for cold weather. Also take note of wet or windy weather, which can cool pets off more quickly. As a rule of thumb, if the weather is too cold for you to be outside comfortably in only light clothes, then its too cold for your pets to be out without protection.
- Groom Properly – Keep your pet’s coat in healthy condition so it can provide them the most protection. If your pet’s fur is dirty and matted, it will not insulate them properly against extreme cold. For pets without fur, take care that their skin, feathers, scales, or shells are in good shape without dry patches, injuries, or baldness.
- Provide Shelter – Ideally, you should bring your pet indoors when the temperatures drop, but that may not be possible for every pet. If you must use an outdoor shelter, choose one that is properly sized to create a den-like retreat for your pet, and it should be slightly elevated to minimize heat loss to the ground. Plenty of bedding will also be necessary for extra warmth.
- Consider a Winter Wardrobe – Some pets can benefit from a stylish winter wardrobe. A coat that covers the chest and back, all the way to the tail, can keep a pet warmer, but be sure it will not get wet when the pet urinates. Socks or booties can also help keep a pet’s feet warmer and provide better traction on slick, icy surfaces.
- Create a Cozy Bed – Your pet will sleep more when it is very cold, which is their natural reaction to low temperatures. Providing a warm bed can keep them safe and comfortable. Use deeper bedding, and be sure the bedding, blankets, or cushions are clean and dry. For caged pets, use deeper litter on the floor of the cage so they can burrow to stay warm.
- Provide Plenty of Water – Staying hydrated is critical for pets to resist cold temperatures. Very cold water, however, can lower a pet’s body temperature and make them more vulnerable. Some pets won’t drink icy water, and dehydration can lead to kidney failure. Opt for heated pet bowls or refill a pet’s water dish regularly when it is very cold.
- Avoid Water – While you want your pet to be drinking adequately in cold weather, it is critical to avoid outdoor water sources, such as lakes, rivers, or ponds that may seem solidly frozen. If your pet wanders onto the ice, it may not hold their weight and the results could be deadly. Also keep your pet out of puddles and slush that can chill them more quickly.
- Avoid Chemicals – Anti-cold chemicals, such as rock salt, anti-freeze, or deicing compounds, can be highly toxic and fatally poisonous to pets. Keep chemicals safely out of pets’ reach, and wipe down your pet’s paws and belly after a walk to remove any contamination they may have accidentally picked up.
- Beware of Heat Sources – If you use supplemental heat during extreme cold, such as space heaters or lighting a fireplace, take care that a pet cannot reach any open flames or tip heaters, which could cause a short circuit or fire. Also keep pets from getting too close to heat sources that could cause dry tissues, overheating, or burns.
- Limit Outdoor Exposure – On the very coldest days, it may be best to keep pets indoors as much as possible. Shorten walks and choose indoor games to keep your pet active and entertained, rather than risking staying out in the cold too long. If necessary, create a potty area in an indoor spot, such as in a garage or basement, for cold weather emergencies.
- Identify Your Pet – Always keep proper identification on your pet with updated tags and a properly fitting collar. Microchipping your pet is also wise, just in case your pet does lose their tags. Identification is essential if your pet were to get lost, particularly in winter when scent or visual markers can be buried under deep snow and ice.
- Be Alert – Always be watchful for signs of stress or discomfort in your pet. Severe shivering, disorientation, lethargy, stiffness, and pale membranes can all be symptoms of hypothermia. If your pet is reluctant to go out or is more eager than usual to go inside, follow their clues and keep them out of the cold.
By following these best practices, you can easily keep your pet safe, secure, and healthy even during the coldest weather.